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Indonesia's foreign policy and the election

Publication Date : 01-04-2014

 

Many are pondering who to place their hopes in for a better Indonesia at the upcoming polls.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) recently nominated Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as its presidential candidate. All assumptions about him must still be tested until a leader is elected.

Those who criticise the nomination argue Jokowi should finish his term as governor before taking on the more difficult and challenging task of the presidency. Many say Jokowi is simply benefiting from his popularity as a governor and has given up on his commitment to work for a better Jakarta.

Yet, his supporters believe that no matter where he works, Jokowi will continue to contribute to the public interest. Many argue that Jokowi has a lot of experience of identifying people’s needs, given his experience as Surakarta mayor in Central Java.

A significant implication of Jokowi’s nomination, known as the Jokowi effect, is the increase of the Indonesian Composite Index (IHSG) from 4,690.53 to 4,878.64, an increase of 188,11 points or 4.01 per cent.

Other observers argue any presidential candidate should gain the support of foreign countries, mainly the US. This assumption is not valid and is yet to be tested. Nevertheless, many assume the interference of other countries’ interests in our domestic politics always needs to be anticipated.

Since domestic and foreign policy are interrelated, it is valid to consider the extent to which external factors influence domestic politics regarding the elections. How do the results of the upcoming election affect our foreign policy?

It is less likely that the upcoming election will significantly affect our foreign policy as with past elections. The foreign policy of a middle power like Indonesia remains marginal in election campaigns. Only candidates with experience and exposure to international affairs consider foreign policy an important issue in their platforms.

Foreign policy has domestic roots but involves both domestic and foreign environments. Thus, foreign policy actors should be able to play two different chess boards at the same time. The candidates should consider the foreign chess board to win the domestic board. Candidates should also be able to identify the domestic roots of foreign policy to effectively pursue our national interests abroad.

The elected president may influence foreign policy to some degree. Yet, they may not be able to be involved in all foreign policy given its wide spectrum. Domestic actors have little control of the world. The Foreign Ministry has been and will continue to be at the forefront of our foreign policy decision making.

The upcoming election results will not do much to our foreign policy given the ministry’s strong institutional function in designing policy and a relatively lack of bipartisan views of government on foreign policy. The most critical question is how the ministry can better serve the government? Like other government institutions, this institution should be free from corruption.

What kind of foreign policy will be delivered by the new government? Predicting this requires greater consideration of the dynamics of the domestic and foreign environments.

If we adopt a friendly policy and independent and active principles, Indonesia will neither pose a threat to regional stability nor be involved in rivalries for regional leadership. Indonesia will not become an ambitious middle power, as long as there is no radical action on the international stage that challenges the national interest.

How do we approach the election from a foreign policy standpoint? One can critically examine how a party or a candidate approaches foreign policy issues based on their familiarity and exposure to foreign affairs.

Their approach should stimulate and increase our chances of being more effective in pursuing our national interest abroad. The approach should elevate both partnership and cooperation, which stand on an equal footing, particularly with our major power partners.

(The writer is a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Paramadina University, Jakarta.)

 

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